Carrying a three goal lead from the first leg in Baku, Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to Bloomfield stadium for the Conference League second qualifying round return leg against Azeri side Zira.
Still missing several key players through injury, Maccabi’s coach Vladimir Ivic welcomed into the squad for the first time new summer signing Nir Bitton who was named on the bench alongside Dan Glazer who also recovered from an injury and was included in the squad for the first time this season. Idan Nachmias who was absent from the trip to Azerbaijan through illness, was back in the side as he partnered Sheran Yeini at the heart of defence. Enric Saborit who filled that role in Baku returned to his role at left back with Andre Geraldes completing the back-four right in front of goalkeeper Daniel Peretz.
Joris van Overeem kept his place at the heart of midfield with Gabi Kanichowsky who scored the opening goal in the first leg and set-up another, together with Eyal Golasa completed the midfield trio. Upfront Vladimir Ivic made a single change as Matan Hozez stepped-in for Parfait Guiagon who picked an injury in training and was withdrawn from the squad. Brandley Kuwas kept his place in support of Djordje Jovanovic who led the line aiming to emulate the form which saw him score 2 goals in Baku.
Thirty seconds from the start Maccabi’s defence was drawn into action after a misplaced Gabi Kanichowsky back pass released Ragim Sadykhov clear through. But Idan Nachmias came charging in with a well timed last gasp tackle to clear the danger before Zira’s forward could have a shot on goal. It took Maccabi 12 minutes to launch the first serious attempt on goal as Sheran Yeini’s perfect through ball over the Zira defence saw Brandley Kuwas beat the visitors’ offside trap. But the Curaçao international’s perfectly timed run fired a shot which was saved by the keeper before Eyal Golasa sent the rebound high over the crossbar.
In the 25th minute Zira’s defence failed to clear a Maccabi free kick which fell to Sheran Yeini who missed a glorious chance to mark his 78th European appearance with a goal as he sent his volley wide of the post. Four minutes later Kuwas curled a corner but Nachmias who rose above Zira’s defence sent his header over on 29.
In the 34th minute an Andre Geraldes cross from the right rolled across the face of Zira’s goal but none of Maccabi’s forwards managed to get a foot in and send the ball towards goal. Two minutes later at the opposite flank Enric Saborit curled in a cross from the left but Matan Hozez missed his attempt of a bicycle kick as well.
A Maccabi counter attack in the 42nd minute saw Kuwas release Djordje Jovanovic into the area but the Serbian striker who was placed under pressure by a Zira defender sent his shot straight at the keeper. A minute later at the opposite end Ilkin Muradov almost surprised Daniel Peretz with a powerful dipping shot but Maccabi’s custodian tipped the ball over the bar. The halftime whistle of Croatian referee Mario Zebec sent both teams into the dressing room to cool down from the hot and humid weather of Bloomfield stadium while the 11,612 fans were hoping for better entertainment in the second half.
Two minutes after the restart an exchange of passes down the right flank involving Kanichowsky Joris van Overeem and Kuwas released the latter whose shot was saved by the keeper. Hozez flashed a teasing shot from he corner of the area that narrowly missed the target on 53 as Maccabi began looking more and more dominant.
With Maccabi’s game seemingly stuck, Vladimir Ivic made his first changes in the 58th minute as he introduced Eylon Almog for Hozez and Oscar Gloukh for Kanichowsky.
Yeini was handed another opportunity to score on 71 after a Kuwas free kick left him unmarked in the box, but the captain guided his diving header wide. Almog had a shot deflected by a defender before goalkeeper Mekhti Dzhenetov managed to spread his body across and save on 75. A minute later, Nir Bitton made his Maccabi debut as he replaced Nachmias raising the loudest cheer on the night with Dan Glazer also coming on for Golasa.
Van Overeem came close to open his Maccabi account and break as the ball fell to the Dutch born midfielder whose powerful drive forced another save from the keeper. Ivic made his fifth and final change as Kuwas bowed out and was replaced in the 85th minute by Dan Biton.
Despite Maccabi’s attempts go carve an opening Zira managed to hang on and ensure that no goals are scored on the night.